California Academy for Liberal Studies: Action Research by Teachers « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

California Academy for Liberal Studies: Action Research by Teachers

Practice Area: Teacher Leadership Development

California Academy for Liberal Studies:
Action Research by Teachers

California Academy for Liberal Studies

Los Angeles, California
Founded 2000
252 students
Grades 6-8
94% Hispanic, 1% African-American, 2% White, 0.4% Asian, 2% Other
68% English language learners
7.8% Special needs
84.3% Receive subsidized meals
No information on whether teachers bargain collectively

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2006.

At CALS, teachers are involved in action research projects targeted at encouraging  more Latino students (95 percent of the student body) in northeast Los Angeles to graduate from highschool  and college.

In creating their own research projects, CALS faculty members focus on student improvement but also on their own teaching methods as well. Just as students are in the midst of their own learning cycles, so are teachers.


Action research is a cyclical process. Teachers and administrators determine questions to research based on real-life situations at their school. Next, they collect and analyze relevant data from multiple sources, then construct and implement interventions, reflecting on them afterwards. Then a new cycle of action research begins.

An example: The after-school “homework club” (detention) wasn’t helping students to finish the work they had failed to complete on time, so teachers looked at who was sent to the homework club most frequently.

The data patterns showed that students sent to homework club showed up and tried to do the work – no failure of self-regulation. Instead, the problem was that the students had difficulty understanding the content or couldn’t read and write well enough to complete assignments on their own. The teachers then took turns instructing during homework club to address academic gaps.

Not every action research project takes place in the classroom. The CALS assistant principal is conducting a “Parent Engagement Strategy,” believing that an active parental role in their children’s education will boost student achievement.

When action research achieves significant results, the practice is implemented schoolwide.

Requirements Of Action Research By Teachers

Action research is not mandatory for CALS teachers but is strongly encouraged. Staff hiring at CALS focuses on those interested in or experienced in the practice.

Very little of CALS’ budget is spent on action research; teachers, students and parents fund-raise if necessary. The school does pay for teachers to attend relevant conferences.

Some teachers collaborate on action research with Fielding University as part of the degree requirements for a master’s degree, but view action research as an ongoing process, not something limited to their graduate education.

Lessons Learned

The CALS principal and faculty have said that action research empowers teachers and stimulates their motivation towards the success of students. Teachers become more aware of what students need and less rigid about exactly what they want to teach.

Time management was a problem for most teachers, who are not paid extra for conducting research projects. Collaboration and sharing ideas and results is a crucial part of action research but finding the time to do so is difficult for the teachers.


Action research is fully embedded in CALS’s culture. Most action research projects call for teachers both to assess students learning but also their own teaching methods, thus creating a focus of continuous improvement.

While CALS’ API improvement from 676 (2004) to 719 (2005) cannot be attributed directly to action research, the staff and faculty believe that action research had an impact on student motivation and improved quality of their work.


Center on Educational Governance
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
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Los Angeles, CA 90089-4039

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